Death toll in Israel hits 150

Israel sees sharp increase in coronavirus testing, inks deal with Chinese firm

Health Ministry reports record 11,908 tests Thursday; agreement with BGI to supply material will boost ability to carry out some 20,000 tests per day

A medical personnel takes a sample from a driver at a Magen David Adom drive-through testing site in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona on April 12, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
A medical personnel takes a sample from a driver at a Magen David Adom drive-through testing site in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona on April 12, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The Health Ministry announced Friday that it had conducted a record 11,908 coronavirus tests the previous day, in a sharp increase from the past several days, which saw the figure fall to between 6,000-7,000.

Increased testing is seen as vital to being able to slowly reopen the economy and ease social distancing restrictions on the population.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set a goal of  30,000 tests a day, but a shortage of a key reagent meant that Israel had struggled to approach 10,000.

Efforts to hit the target also received a further boost with the Foreign Ministry saying it had signed a deal with Chinese company BGI that will see the firm send lab equipment to Israel by the end of next week, allowing for conducting some 12,000 tests per day.

Once established, the BGI equipment will expand the scope to perform as many as 20,000 tests per day, the ministry said, adding that tests will be performed in Israel by Israeli companies selected by the Health Ministry.

A worker takes a sample from a woman at a new Maccabi Healthcare Services testing booth in Jaffa that enables medical personel to collect swab samples from individuals without wearing medical gear, April 16, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Earlier this month, the Health Ministry said Israel signed a NIS 90 million ($25 million) deal with BGI to purchase the special equipment but proceedings evidently stalled.

The new tests are PCR tests — polymerase chain reaction tests — which directly detect viral nucleic acids. Some tests detect the body’s antibodies to the virus.

BGI’s tests have been used widely in China, and are being distributed to over 50 other countries and regions, the firm said. Results from the tests are available three hours after they are administered.

But according to a Channel 12 report earlier this month, Israel’s largest HMO had refused to work with the firm over concerns BGI and the Chinese government could gain access to sensitive information on its 4.9 million customers, including on their DNA.

The testing news comes as the death toll in Israel from the coronavirus rose to 150 Friday afternoon, an increase of seven from the previous evening.

One of the victims, a 96-year-old woman, was the eighth fatality from the Maon Horim assisted living facility in Jerusalem, the Walla news site reported.

Roughly one-third of the COVID-19 fatalities in Israel were residents of elderly living centers.

Magen David Adom emergency services workers, wearing protective clothing, arrive to test residents of Jerusalem’s Nofim home for the elderly for Covid-19, March 27, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to the Health Ministry’s latest figures, there have been 12,855 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel.

The ministry said 182 people were in serious condition, 129 of them on ventilators.

Another 157 people were in moderate condition and the rest had mild symptoms.

There have been 2,967 Israelis who recovered from COVID-19.

The latest increases came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu green-lighted a general plan to ease restrictions on economic activity and “stay home” orders, potentially allowing some businesses to open as soon as next week.

A statement from Netanyahu’s office described the plan, which still must be approved by the full cabinet, as “responsible, cautious and gradual” and said it would allow for a limited opening of businesses.

No specific timeline for the plan was detailed, but according to Hebrew media reports some businesses could reopen as early as next week.

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